"The Macarena" was Billboard's number-one song in 1996. Fifteen years later, that song still gets stuck in my head. Also that year "Braveheart" won the Oscar, Charles and Diana got divorced, E-bay was launched, and Bill Clinton was in the White House.
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And in 1996 - not adjusted for inflation - the typical American household made about $35,000 a year. Now when you adjust that for inflation, you get... about where we are now. Income for the typical American family has been dropping steadily for three years. Median income in 2010 fell below $50,000 a year! That's down nearly 2.5% in the last year and down more than 7% since its peak in 1999. So let me get this straight - according to the "experts," the recession ended two and a half years ago, but incomes are continuing to decline? The middle class is becoming almost non-existent as more families struggle to stay afloat. As the Wall Street Journal points out - the income gap is still pretty wide. The top 20% of households account for half of all pre-tax income. According to the New America Foundation, middle class jobs 30 years ago made up more than half of the income in the U.S., and now it's closer to 40%.
The news is the worst for men. Forget 1996 - their earnings level is now more like it was in 1978! And ladies, our income is actually rising slightly, but we still make 25% less than our male counterparts. Younger Americans seem to be struggling just as much, especially those between the ages of 25 and 34. Nearly six million had to live with mom and dad this year, up from under five million before the recession.
That's more than 14% of all people in this age group! In fact the census bureau made a disturbing observation: officially, the group who live with their parents have a poverty rate of less than 8.5%, because they include the entire family's income.
Take that out of the equation - and the poverty rate skyrockets to more than 45%. This is unacceptable! The middle class is the bread and butter of our economy. We need a vibrant middle class. Too much wealth at the top and too little at the bottom would throw our entire economy out of whack - most likely irreparably. The bottom line: Incomes need to grow. We need more jobs. And, those jobs need to be at the middle class level.